Tag: Caes Blum

Στοιχειωματικοὶ were casters of something

As progress continues on Ptolemy’s  Ὁ Καρπός I find myself confronting more and more questions that E. Boer’s critical edition does not and cannot answer.[1] Some of these questions are small and probably of interest only to a sliver of scholars. Other seem a bit broader, such as: How did the talented humanist, scholar, and bibliophile Johannes Sambucus make sense of aphorism 21 since one of his copies encouraged him to consider when the moon is in Cancer or Pisces and yet his other copy told him to consider when the moon is in Scorpio or Pisces (as we read in Boer’s edition)?[2] How did he decide which copy to trust, assuming he read and understood either?

Sambucus’s two versions of Aphorism 21
ÖNB Manuscript Greek English
Cod. Phil. gr. 37 τῆς «σελήνης» οὔσης ἐν τῷ «καρκινῳ» ἢ τοῖς «ἰχθύσι» καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντος ἀστέρι ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, … When the moon is in Cancer or Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star under the earth,…
Cod. Phil. gr. 49 Τῆσ «σελήνης» οὔσησ ἐν τῷ «Σκορπίῳ» ἢ τοῖσ «Ἰχθύσι» καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντοσ ἀστέρι ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, … When the moon is in Scorpio or Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star under the earth,…

Or, for another example, how should we proceed when Boer claims that all Greek copies lack aphorism 98 and so includes that aphorism from the Latin tradition (“hic aphorismus in omnibus codicibus Graecis nunc deest, supplevi ex Lat.”) and yet many Greek manuscripts do have an aphorism 98 (though not the one Boer supplies). Are we to assume that readers of these Greek copies somehow knew that they were missing aphorism 98 (despite having one in the 98th position)? I have yet to find any evidence that early readers thought their copy was missing aphorism 98 (and none that don’t have 100 aphorisms).[3]

At the same time I am confronting other questions about how to translate certain expressions and terms. Some of these translation issues I’ve recognized as I work through the aphorisms the first time (e.g., καταντήματοϲ). Other translation issues I’ve realized as I go back and polish my translation. Recently, when looking back over some early aphorisms, I encountered just such an issue with a particular term: στοιχειωματικοὶ.

At first glance, οἱ στοιχειωματικοὶ is not a problematic term. Liddell and Scott are clear: “persons who cast nativities from the signs of the Zodiac.” They even cite aphorism 9 of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός as an example. Good. Done. But then I came across an older article by C. Blum that seemed relevant: “The Meaning of στοιχεῖον and Its Derivatives in the Byzantine Age. A Study in Byzantine Magic.” Starting from an analysis of texts about Apollonius of Tyana (who was famous for making talismans) and moving from there to a number of related texts, Blum argues forcefully that “στοιχειοῦν was a technical term for the practices Apollonius, and that, accordingly, στοιχειωματικός was the professional name for such a man” (316). In other words, a στοιχειωματικός made talismans. Blum too refers to aphorism 9 of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in the end, saying that with his definition of στοιχειωματικός

we are able to understand a disputed passage, viz. Pseudo-Ptolemæus Centiloquium, edition of 1553, p. 214: Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται τούτοις οἱ στοιχειωματικοὶ , τὰς ἐπεμβάσεις τῶν ἀστέρων σκοποῦντες ἐπ᾽αὐτά (324)

I find Blum’s argument powerful if not entirely persuasive. Στοιχειωματικοί is used only once in the Ὁ Καπρός, so there’s no easy way to compare its possible meanings across examples. I’ve not yet done enough work to see if it is always linked to magic and talismans, as Blum argues is the case. And simply because στοιχειωματικοὶ could describe a maker of talismans doesn’t demonstrate that it always and only identified such a person (to be clear, Blum argues for such a unique connection). Different versions of the Latin Centiloquium as well as many English translations accept that aphorism 9 is about people who “frame of images” (typically glossed as makers of talismans). The one Greek copy I have found with a Latin gloss does not clarify things much (BnF gr. 2180).

Accepting Blum’s authority (and the widespread conviction that aphorism 9 is about talismans), I have tentatively adjusted my translation to be:

Curent working translation of Aphorism 9
Aphorism Greek English
9 Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ τούτοισ, τὰϲ ἐπεμβάσεισ τῶν ἀστέρων ^σκοποῦντεσ ἐπ᾽αὐτήν ἐπ’αὐτά. In their generation and corruption [terrestrial] forms are affected by the celestial forms. And for this reason casters of nativities makers of talismans consult them by examining the ingresses of the stars into them.

I still need to do more work to convince myself that Blum’s translation applies here, so I reserve the right to revise and change my mind in the future. Stay tuned (if you’re a total nerd).


  1. This is not a criticism of Boer’s edition, which is excellent, but rather a concern about critical editions in general. Boer made a number of editorial choices that rendered the text homogenous and unproblematic. In the process, the text loses features and difficulties that earlier readers had to confront. The critical apparatus with its daunting and cumbersome (and therefore exclusionary) system of symbols and multiple footnote streams does little to restore those features if for no other reason than few people make the effort to use the critical apparatus to reconstruct variations in the manuscript. It’s too much of a pain. My concerns about critical editions are not new (and this footnote is not the place to rehearse and discuss them, but don’t be surprised if in the near future I spend considerable time and space thinking aloud about them), but I don’t think scholarship has yet taken those concerns seriously and tried to address them, whether in traditional print form or through dynamic digital publications.  ↩

  2. Sambucus’s contemporary Augerius von Busbeck also had a copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός that included the same wording. Busbeck purchased a fifteenth-century copy in sixteenth-century in Constantinople and brought back to Vienna.  ↩

  3. There’s a related issue in aphorism 100 in Boer’s edition. A number of the Greek copies divide Boer’s aphorism 100 into multiple aphorisms with no evidence that they thought these aphorisms should be combined into a single one.  ↩